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In 2006 I was--among other things--a vegetable farmer. In New Haven, Connecticut, using Ivy League labor, we grew and sold over 300 varieties of vegetables. Today I am struck with memories of one in particular: a gorgeous crop of spinach we couldn't sell.
During the summer of 2006, an intelligent, concerned citizen stood across from me at our table at the farmers market and proclaimed, "You are not supposed to be selling that ." She was a regular customer. I looked at her, confused: "Selling what?"
"Spinach. Haven't you heard, there's a spinach scare?" She continued in a patient tone and explained that there was an E. coli outbreak, it was in multiple states, that the FDA had linked it to spinach, and that people were advised not to eat it.
I was stunned. I wasn't stunned because of her news about the spinach scare. Everyone knew about the spinach scare. I was stunned because here was a person, likely with several advanced degrees, a regular customer at a farmer's market, who had no understanding of the way things work when it comes to food.
I tried to explain that the spinach, which ultimately poisoned over 200 people in 26 states and killed five, came from the Salinas Valley in California, likely from one farm, and that the contamination was probably caused by human or cow feces brought into the field by dirty floodwater. I also explained that our garden was one mile away from where we were standing, 3,000 miles away from Salinas, and that it had no relation to the spinach or the contaminated water that caused the outbreak.